That is the essence of what he said he wants his fellow graduates and current UofL students to do, too – laugh and smile a bit while they’re in college.

Just remember to have fun. You’ll be outstanding, Pessoa said.

This winter’s student commencement speaker, Pessoa will have the opportunity to share that advice with about 700 other UofL students who will participate in the Dec. 17 graduation ceremony. The 7:30 p.m. event will be at the Kentucky International Convention Center.

But even before he takes the stage to speak and receives his master’s degree in jazz performance, the Brazilian already has shared a great deal with students at UofL and in Louisville schools and with audiences internationally.

Long journey to Louisville

The journey to UofL took the 36-year-old nine years to complete. Pessoa was finishing an undergraduate degree in his native country when he took some jazz classes from a visiting professor – Mike Tracy, director of UofL’s Jazz Studies program.

The two kept in touch over the years as Pessoa performed music and taught at a professional school for young musicians. It wasn’t until 2007 that he came to Louisville, started his graduate studies and became Tracy’s teaching assistant.

You couldn’t ask for a better student. He’s always creative in what he does musically and in life, said Tracy, who couldn’t say enough good things about Pessoa.

He’s a role model for other students. He’s especially good with young students. I’ve given him more responsibility than other teaching assistants, Tracy elaborated.

And Pessoa embraced that responsibility and the opportunities that came his way totally:

Pessoa has been involved in the Jazz in the Schools program, which introduces Louisville area school children to jazz.

This semester, in addition to assisting Tracy in the classroom, he took center stage and taught the course Jazz Arranging 1.

He became the director of the Brazilian Ensemble and this semester, directed Jazz Ensemble II.

He also played with the International Combo, an experience that led to a graduate school highlight about three weeks ago when Mixolegion, a group formed out of the International Combo, performed nine concerts in cities across Russia.

Don’t ask Pessoa about his own successes and expect him to reply. Instead, he’ll say only what made UofL special to him.

The people. The teachers, they’re special. The students, my colleagues, oh my. I made so many friends, he said.

Knowledge can be gained almost anywhere, he said. People can learn and research, but the people here were special.

Of all he has done, Pessoa said he has no one favorite experience. Everything made the whole experience so intense.

His success serves as a good example of the scope of our music program, Tracy said. He’s an exceptional person. He’ll do well here or any other place he chooses to go.

When he goes, it’ll be a drag, he said.

Pessoa, though, said he won’t likely be leaving soon. He’ll stick around Louisville with his wife and two children – Arthur, 7, and Iara, 10 months. Wife, Angela Duarte, is applying to graduate school at UofL.

In the meantime, he’ll continue to work on his music – composing, performing and recording. He also hopes to teach in the future, an effort that may lead him to get his doctorate.